Despite California’s North Coast being home to some of our state’s pioneering breweries, Merideth and I, in almost 20 years of beer travel, have never journeyed to that remote part of the Golden State. Over the years, several trips were planned and for various reasons, aborted. With 2011’s unofficial theme being “Trying New Things,” we figured it was high time to make the long trek north to Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.
We split the 7-hour drive in two, staying the night in Santa Rosa. A couple of hours into the second 3½-hour leg, I came up with a possible reason why we hadn’t made this trip before. It’s a long drive! It was with great relief that we finally pulled into Eureka, the main city in Humboldt County.
A gray, foggy pall hung over Eureka as we made our way to the historic downtown district and our first stop, Lost Coast Brewery. Thanks to our friend and Lost Coaster, Jack, we were treated to a short tour of the production brewery. After that we made our way to the pub for a beer. Opened in 1990, their pub and original brewery are housed in a historic 1892 building.
The pub was bustling with a lunchtime crowd and we grabbed the last two seats at the bar. Very familiar with the Lost Coast lineup, we passed on a taster set and ordered brews that aren’t usually available to us. Merideth ordered the Harvest Wheat while I went with Over the Top IPA, a pub exclusive. Despite it’s name, this 7% ABV IPA was quite balanced and made for a pleasant first beer of the day.
While we drank our beers, we gazed around the pub at the varied artwork. Those familiar with the Lost Coast labels would appreciate the creations, many done in papier-mâché, that adorned the walls and hung from the ceiling. With a busy day ahead, however, we couldn’t get too distracted. We finished our beers and pressed on.
A short drive north through the college town of Arcata, we arrived in McKinleyville, home of Six Rivers Brewery. The brewpub was just off the highway on the town’s main drag. I have to admit I was quite surprised by the building. Expecting old and rustic, Six Rivers was housed in a brightly-painted, modernist building.
Merideth and I planted ourselves at the bar and ordered a taster set and lunch. The brewery’s motto is “the Brew with a View,” so we admired the Pacific Ocean in the distance as we ran through the nine beer sampler.
Admittedly, alarms went off at first. Not only were there two garnishes in the nine beer sampler, but also a dreaded Chili beer. Not a fan, one whiff of the overwhelming aroma told us this beer was not for us (neither one of us dared taste it). We found the two fruit beers, a Raspberry Lambic-style and a Strawberry Wheat, to be a tad sweet. Otherwise, the beers were quite solid with the standout for me being Trula Pilsner, a delightful Saaz-hopped Bohemian-style Pilsner. Merideth’s highlights were the Bluff Creek Pale Ale and Moonstone Porter.
Taking a few minute journey inland from Six Rivers to the town of Blue Lake, we pulled into the parking lot at Mad River Brewing. Located in an industrial park, Mad River was somewhat difficult to find despite Blue Lake being a tiny town. We blame the directions provided by my douchephone which were quite convoluted. It didn’t help that every street in Blue Lake seemed to be called Chartin.
The reigning GABF “Small Brewing Company/Brewer of the Year” was my most anticipated stop of the day. At the Boonville Beer Festival, Mad River poured some excellent cask beer and I was hoping to get more of the same. Much to my disappointment, no cask beer was to be had on this day.
We ordered the taster tray and set up out in the beer garden as the sun finally made an appearance. Most of the beers were very familiar, being part of the regular lineup of brews readily available in our area. However, I have to say, having the brewery-fresh versions of these beers for the first time made me look at them in a new light. The hop aroma and flavor really popped on the two standouts, Jamaica Sunset IPA and Steelhead Double IPA. Of the Seasonal/Specialty/Pilot beers, the ESB stood out with it’s refreshing, sessionable quality.
It was also at Boonville Beer Festival that we first tried beer from Redwood Curtain Brewing. At that time, we were already discussing making the North Coast trip sometime during the summer. Learning there was new brewery in the area to visit reinforced our decision. Somehow, six breweries to add to The List sounded a lot better than five. Little did we know that Redwood Curtain would be a potential “Top 5” stop of 2011.
Located in an industrial park just off Highway 101 in Arcata, Redwood Curtain’s tasting room was from the minimalist school. Our favorite beer places these days seem to be the ones that are spartan on decor. Basically, the message being, it’s all about the beer. The seats at the small bar were filled with locals so Merideth and I grabbed the stools at one of the barrel tables by the brewing kit.
Merideth was already won over by the free gold fish snacks, but it was the beer that eventually stole the show. The seven brews were all well made. The beer that stood out for me was the IPA. At 6.4% ABV and 50 IBUs, it was one of the more well-balanced IPAs that I have had in recent memory. And the Columbus, Centennial and Amarillo hops gave it that punch that I love in the style. Merideth fell in love with the Belgian Pale Ale, so much so that she insisted she get a growler for home.
Our final stop of the day was Eel River Brewing in Fortuna, just south of Eureka. Its location two doors down from our hotel set up perfectly for an epic evening of dinner, beer drinking and Scrabble. Unfortunately, the lack of sleep, long drive, and busy day finally caught up to us. We managed a yummy dinner and a taster set before we had to call it a night.
We had finally done it! After 20 years of beer travel, we finally ticked off California’s North Coast. That wasn’t the end of the trip, though, and we still had one more glorious day ahead.